Of Course We Have, and Here's to Much More

Economic Times - August 15, 2013

At least on Independence day, we can give ourselves the liberty of thinking about the past decade. And give ourselves a break from the flagellation to look at some of the useful things that got done in India.

The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan, started in 2000-01, has been a success. Now, 90% of children have access to a school close to home, literacy rates in rural India have risen by 10% in the last decade and the literacy gap between urban and rural has narrowed. When you get cynical, drive into the interiors of most states and see droves of children chattering and laughing and on their way to school. The right to education has birth defects but it moves the agenda from mere access to a right to free education.

The right to information is a noncaste-based liberal move, whose impact is widespread, and goes all the way to the grassroots. In rural areas, a large network of roads has been built, though potholes in cities can be life-threatening. Road connectivity has improved and economic change has come with it.

To check the progress of the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, go to the internet and check the voluminous data there for all states. Our sarkar has embraced the internet with a vengeance. The seeds of e-governance have been sowed in many places in different ways.

Many government services have been computerised. From registering property to applying for a passport, many services are online now. So, now, with a railways PNR number, anyone can send an SMS and get the status of the waitlist.
After initial hiccups of trying out private players, the government got its act together and the Aadhaar juggernaut has gathered momentum.

Aadhaar could become a game changer for everyone, not just the poor. It is time to be honest and admit that the welfare schemes of the Centre and the states, despite their many drawbacks, are big symbols of what our values are or need to be.

NREGA has done much more for wage improvements than trickledown has. Inclusion and inclusive growth are now a part of what this country wants to be.

We have found our sense of humour and our wit and it's all out there in cyberspace. Humour on the net is status-neutral and no one is spared.

No major city has been spared terror strikes. Along with that, security has become more intrusive. We live in an atmosphere of excessive checking of handbags, passing through X-ray machines and surveilled by CCTVs. Yet, we don't feel beleaguered and India has not become a paranoid, angry and suspicious society, at least not on account of this.
Education, especially in computers and English, is our route to personal progress. So, we now have one more common path to nirvana that the rich and the poor both believe in.

The Times of India recently carried an evocative picture of a temple to Goddess English in some part of India. It is believed that if you took your child there, she would speak the language well. Our embrace of the language in our way is remarkable.

National integration is alive and well even as we wrangle over our 29th state and whether we need IAS officers in Uttar Pradesh. Part of this is via food: we are all eating "foreign" foods more regularly. Chapatis and chhole in the south, idlis and chettinad chicken curry in the north, and chaat, which tastes like pickle in Hyderabad and like jam in Ahmedabad. Weddings have also changed. Boring, functional south Indian weddings are now spiced up with Punjabi gaana bajana, mehndi plus mangalsutra mixtures.Domestic tourism has helped: the Bengalis are in Kanyakumari and the Tamilians in Amarnath.

Last but not least, women have become assertive, they are heard and seen and the legal framework is geared to help them.

Sure, we can find another list of 20 heinous, tragic sins of the past decade. And each of those listed here also has some flaw. But let's look at the half-full glass just for today and draw inspiration from the glass half full. We love this crazy, flawed, impossibly-hard-to-deal-with land of ours. That's why we live here and that's why we rave and rant about what we can do better.

The writer is a marketing strategy consultant